La Liga: Barca Face Villarreal, Celta Look To Remain Top Four

Celta Vigo Balaidos (via Flikr Creative Commons).
Celta Vigo Balaidos (via Flikr Creative Commons). /

Welcome to La Liga Talking Points, a weekly column running throughout the season in which we take a look at the key stories and talking points from Spanish football’s top flight. With an inevitable focus on the biggest teams, such as Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona, there will also be a worthwhile nod toward the rest, we take a look at how the league is shaping up each week and what to look out for going forward.

Barcelona vs. Villarreal

Barcelona welcome Villarreal to the Camp Nou on Sunday evening as Luis Enrique’s men continue their assault toward another La Liga title challenge.

In the absence of Lionel Messi many predicted Barcelona’s strained squad would falter in their title challenge, but that couldn’t be further from reality.

Indeed, Luis Suarez and Neymar have been in staggeringly consistent form of late, leading Barcelona to joint-top of the table.  So far this season Neymar has scored nine goals in the league, while Suarez has netted eight times.

In the Champions League Barcelona are strolling to the knockout stages, having beaten BATE Borisov 3-0 midweek.

In terms of team news Javier Mascherano is sidelined with a ban, with the Argentina international serving the second match of his suspension, while Ivan Rakitic is out with an injury, meaning either Sergi Roberto and Andres Iniesta will stride forward ahead of Sergio Busquets.

Villarreal meanwhile currently sit 4th in La Liga, enjoying their best domestic season in years. Don’t forget, it’s not long since Villarreal plied their trade in the Segunda division.

Marcelino Garcia Toral’s men have accrued 20 points from 10 games this season, and have recently arrested a run of consecutive defeats with a draw and then a win last weekend at home to Sevilla.

In the Europa League Toral’s men secured qualification to the round of 32 by beating Gent 2-1 on Thursday.

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The Yellow Submarine are not in too much strain in terms of squad selection, but will be without Eric Bailly who is serving a one-match ban, though the Ivorian is also suffering with an injury problem.

Daniele Bonera will come into the back four as a result, with Tomas Pina expected to partner Bruno in the centre of the park, while Denis and Jonathan are expected to be fielded out wide, with no changes up top.

Barcelona vs. Villarreal Match Prediction

Barcelona have won 26 of their last 31 matches in La Liga and have  scored at least 3 goals in their last three matches against Villarreal in all competitions. A win on Sunday seems inevitable for La Blaugrana.

Celta Vigo vs. Valencia

Celta Vigo welcome Valencia to Balaidos on Saturday as they face another tough test of their credentials as they remain on course for a surprising Champions League qualification spot.

At the beginning of the season many Celta fans would have been happy with a mid-table finish this season, but under the tutelage of Eduardo Berizzo their sights have bee set far higher.

Indeed, now the Galician’s sit 3rd in La Liga, trailing Real Madrid and Barcelona by a mere three points after the ten matches play so far.

With 11 points from a possible 18 however, their underlying form suggest a further drop-off from the top may be on its way.

Nevertheless, victory over Villarreal on October 18 suggested they’re the real deal, and their last victory – 3-2 against Real Sociedad at the Anoeta – illustrated their attacking style resulting in more victories.

Valencia meanwhile sit 7th in La Liga and have endured an erratic season so far, under the management of Nuno Santo.

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Indeed, Valencia have been on a win one match – lose one match streak, for several weeks now, which has seen them accrue nine points from a possible 18 available.

In the Champions League Valencia are enjoying more mixed form, losing 1-0 to Gent on Wednesday. However they remain poised to qualify in 2nd place, having accrued six points from a possible 12 so far.

Meanwhile, Shkodran Mustafi returns from suspension and should return to the back four. Enzo Perez is also out with a ban after picking up five yellow cards this season.

Celta Vigo vs. Valencia Match Prediction

Celta Vigo have only been defeated once in the opening 10 league games, with that loss coming to unbeaten league leaders Real Madrid, and will be more than a match for Valencia this Saturday.

Los Che have recorded three wins in their last five games, with Nuno’s men struggling to find consistent form. Given their sporadic form, another loss seems on the cards this weekend for Santo’s men.